The World According to Scott Walker
Fact-checking his memoir, Unintimidated
Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s new memoir, Unintimidated, is yet the latest example of his attempt to raise his national profile and run for president in 2016. If you know little about Scott Walker and all you do is read his book, you’ll come away with a favorable view of him. But for those who’ve lived in Wisconsin for the past three years, the reality of what actually happened here doesn’t resemble the one portrayed in his book.
Walker’s publicist didn’t respond to the Shepherd’s request to comment for this article.
Unintimidated: “Here is a little-reported fact: Outside the Washington beltway, big-government liberals are on the ropes, while conservative reformers are winning elections and policy battles in state houses all across the country,” Walker writes, then lists a string of statistics about Republican victories in state-level elections.
Reality: Yes, Republicans made great strides in state elections in 2010 and 2012. Walker should know—he and other Republicans were swept into office on the wave of tea party-fueled anger over President Obama’s presence in the White House.
But does that mean that “big-government liberals are on the ropes,” as Walker argues?
Not really. Republicans’ success in state legislatures—and Congress—can partially be chalked up to their efforts after the 2010 U.S. Census to redraw legislative maps to ensure their legislative victories.
Nationally, Democratic candidates for Congress won 49% of the vote to the Republicans’ 48.2%. Yet, the GOP holds a 233-195 advantage in that chamber.
In fact, the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice found that “where Republicans controlled redistricting, the GOP likely won 11 more seats than they would have under the old district lines, including five seats previously held by Democrats.”
Wisconsin saw those kinds of lopsided results in 2012, the first election held after Republicans redrew the state’s congressional and legislative districts. While Obama won 53% of the statewide vote, and Democratic candidates for Congress won 50.4% of the vote, the state sent five Republicans and three Democrats to the House last fall. In the state Assembly, Democratic candidates won almost 200,000 more votes than their Republican rivals, yet Republicans have a 60-39 majority in that chamber.
That was the Republicans’ goal—to redraw legislative maps to their advantage. The Republican State Leadership Committee released a review of its “strategy and execution of its efforts in the 2010 election to erect a Republican firewall through the redistricting process that paved the way to Republicans retaining a U.S. House majority in 2012.” This $30 million effort, called REDistricting MAjority Project (REDMAP), spent $1.1 million in Wisconsin “to take control of the Senate and Assembly” and cites the Badger State as one of its redistricting successes, along with Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Unintimidated: “The following year [after the recall], the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office announced that it was closing the three-year-long [John Doe] investigation. I was cleared.”
Reality: Walker only mentions the John Doe investigation on one page of his memoir, chiefly to dismiss it. Yes, he wasn’t charged. But what he doesn’t tell his readers is that he had to set up a criminal defense fund and plough $450,000 of his campaign contributions into it. Nor does he mention that the John Doe resulted in the convictions of six of his allies: a major contributor, Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co. executive William Gardner; right-hand-man Tim Russell, for embezzling from a veterans’ charity; Russell’s partner, Brian Pierick, for contributing to the delinquency of a child; another top aide, Kelly Rindfleisch, for raising campaign funds for a Walker ally while working for Walker at the county; appointee Kevin Kavanaugh, for stealing from another veterans’ charity; and Darlene Wink, for working on Walker’s campaign while also working for him at the county. Walker is silent on the many damning details contained in the criminal complaints, including the fact that his campaign and county staffers worked together each day to further his ambitions, and that Russell installed a private Internet router in the county executive’s suite so that Walker’s close aides could evade open records requests.
Of course, Walker doesn’t mention John Doe 2, which allegedly is targeting Walker’s campaign committee and state and national conservative groups. It’s illegal to coordinate a candidate’s campaign with the work of independent groups. One link could be Wisconsin Club for Growth, whose spokesman R.J. Johnson has worked for Walker as a political aide for more than two decades and appears throughout Unintimidated. Whether Walker’s campaign efforts were combined with outside groups during the recall season is something the special prosecutor, who happens to be a Republican, is likely examining.
John Doe 2 must be serious, since it’s being regularly attacked by Wisconsin Reporter and other conservative media outlets. Unfortunately, Wisconsin Reporter doesn’t mention that its donors may be in the special prosecutor’s sights.
Unintimidated: “I am proud that we were able to take a $3.6 billion deficit and turn it into a surplus.”
Reality: Walker’s first budget did create a modest surplus, which he used to create a property tax cut of $13 annually for the average homeowner.
But the two-year budget he signed this summer creates a $725 million deficit going into 2015, according to the nonpartisan state Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Unintimidated: “I could have simply rejected the Medicaid expansion. Instead we found an innovative way to have fewer people uninsured, fewer people in Medicaid, more people in the market, and 100% of the poor covered for the first time.”
Reality: Walker’s health care “reform” will cost state taxpayers an extra $109 million in the next two years alone. BadgerCare will cover about 85,000 fewer people than it could have if Wisconsin had taken the expansion. Instead, Walker is pushing people who earn just a little bit more than the federal poverty level onto the health insurance exchanges, which will provide taxpayer subsidies for private insurance. In other words, Walker is propping up the insurance industry with state taxpayer dollars rather than use federal funds to insure low-income Wisconsinites through the highly regarded BadgerCare program.
Unintimidated: “We plan to cut taxes over and over and over again until Wisconsin is leading the country in economic recovery.”
Reality: Yes, Walker has cut taxes. But since Walker took office, Wisconsin has not added jobs as quickly as the rest of the country. For example, over the past 24 months the rest of the states on average grew jobs at 1.9% and Wisconsin grew jobs at just 1%. Unfortunately Wisconsin is functioning at about half the pace of the rest of the country in job creation. As many economists will argue, lowering taxes and lowering spending actually lowers the rate of job growth. Perhaps that’s because Walker’s regressive tax cuts have primarily benefited the rich and corporations, while the state’s poorest have gotten a tax increase. Walker cut the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Homestead Credit, and made changes to the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program and the Wisconsin Works (W-2) program. As the Wisconsin Budget Project’s Jon Peacock wrote, “That sleight of hand is a ‘Robin Hood in Reverse’ maneuver, because it uses funding intended for disadvantaged families to pave the way for tax cuts that predominately benefit those making more than $100,000 per year.”
Walker is also floating the idea of getting rid of the income tax, which is based on ability to pay and has wealthier people paying their fair share. Walker would need to replace the income tax with a tax on consumption, a sales tax or value added tax, which disproportionately hurts poorer people since poor people spend all or almost all of the money they earn just to live. That action would again give more tax breaks to Walker’s wealthy contributors.
Unintimidated: “Balancing a budget is great, and improving the economy is awesome.”
Reality: Nowhere in the book does Walker mention his signature issue from his 2010 campaign that got him elected—his promise to create 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first four-year term. He may be overlooking this promise because he’ll never make good on it. Walker’s Wisconsin has only added about 88,000 private-sector jobs since he took office. He’s failing to help Wisconsin add jobs at the same rate the rest of the nation is. According to the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), the state’s “jobs deficit”—the number of jobs needed to keep up with population growth and regain jobs lost through the Great Recession—stands at 146,989.
So while the rest of the country is recovering, Wisconsin’s economy has stalled. The Badger State during the Walker years has consistently floundered in the bottom half of the states in terms of job creation. The latest data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages shows that Walker’s Wisconsin ranks 37th in new job growth and our rate of growth is about half of the national average.
An interesting thing to watch is the various studies coming out by discredited economists like Arthur Laffer and funded by billionaires like the Koch brothers that argue that Wisconsin ranks very high in the climate for future job growth. Since Walker’s policies, like Act 10, have been in place for a few years and we are sorely lagging in actual job growth, this “climate for future job growth” is basically wishful thinking and not based in what is actually happening in the Wisconsin economy. It is fantasy, but that doesn’t stop his supporters from trying to prop him up.
On the other hand, Walker’s Wisconsin is tops in one ranking: new unemployment filings.